Tourism : An Industry whose time has come

Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh *

Manipur Sangai Tourism Festival 2013 at Hapta Kangjeibung
Manipur Sangai Tourism Festival 2013 at Hapta Kangjeibung :: Pix - Jinendra Maibam

What is certain in this uncertain world is that we have to run faster to be in the same place. If we want to grow faster we have to look for more and more investible resources. Another clear thing is that no matter how hard we try we are not in any position to mobilise internally the resources. Not only our resources have been so inadequate for our needs, but also highly inefficient.

Despite everything only a small fraction of public expenditure actually reach the targeted beneficiary groups. For many decades we relied on planning from the top. This approach glossed over regional specificities which provided a perfect alibi for failures. An agricultural policy failed not because the policy was wrong but because it failed to address issues like appropriateness, adequacy and sustainability. This was the universal fate of most policies. Ultimately we realised that development should be more inclusive and sustainable.

It is in this context that researchers started looking for the drivers of growth amidst what we have. Instead of explaining lack of growth by some thing which we do not have, there was a concerted effort to look for endogenous factors. It became fashionable to look for gold amidst the 'dirt' around us. It took us nearly six decades to realise that we can never grow through central interventions alone.

The most inclusive and hence the most meaningful growth will be growth based on optimum utilisation of resources- resources being defined in the broadest sense. Besides money and machines we also need self-confidence. Self confidence is an intangible resource which can do wonders .this change in perspective has thrown up many interesting areas which can give a big push to development. Tourism is one such area.

There are lots of excitements over the possibilities of tourism. Subsequently tourism policy was announced both at central and state level and such policy provided the framework for looking at the possibilities under a framework. It also provides an opportunity for reaching out to the stake holders. Even under India's Look East Policy, tourism is going to occupy a prime place tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

Sustainable tourism leads to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural, integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support system. Important issues are stakeholders development, preservation of the social, cultural and environmental factors and poverty reduction through tourism.

Tourism industry is not actually an industry by itself, it consists of many industries such as accommodation services for tourists, food and beverage industry, transport and transportation rental, travel and reservation services industry, cultural, sports & entertainment services industries. It is a highly heterogeneous industry. The value of a tourist asset depends on transport system, available information and tourist services.

We are apprehensive of development that alienates us, development that excludes us. What is the meaning of development that marginalises us? We need some self-centredness .Tourism fits in perfectly well in this scheme. It involves getting the tourists interested in what we have and had. Tourists are as heterogeneous as tourism industry and are highly individualistic.

Finding out what they want is as important as creating demand for our products through advertisement. This synchronisation needs a level of research on these issues. Though it is very important to influence and understand demands of tourists, it is easier said than done. Tourism policy to be meaningful and sustainable should involve deeper and proper understanding of local tourist potentials and trend in demand for tourism products.

Tourism is a highly segmented market and targeting is very important. Though Americans and Chinese tourists criss-cross the earth, their tastes are different and the ability to adjust to such differences is also very important. There is a need to match our resources with demand. It fits with theory of comparative advantage also. The uniqueness in our culture, flora & fauna, food items,livelihoods etc have potential for becoming tourism products. We have comparative advantage in such unique traits. Manipuri culture has to be experienced in Manipur, not in places like Delhi haat.

Tourism is expected to usher in lots of changes. Some of the changes may not fit with our concept of development. Yet the demand for our tourism products and services will also unleash powerful drivers of growth- activities free from the seasonal cycles, foreign currency, an interest in 'our' things and contact with the rest of the world. What our efforts over decades have achieved may be achieved in years.

It will become fashionable to use our scripts wherever we can. It involves a desire for an identity. It will become fashionable to know more and more of our culture among our youth because tourists will have an unsatiable thirst for our culture. Because tourists will keep coming throughout the year, we have to showcase our cultural wealth throughout the year. That means establishing a cultural complex which will showcase our items throughout the year.

Many of the things that we take for granted and insignificant may be of interest to the tourist. When that happens, it will be a wonderful time. Everyone knows the alienating influence of unemployment. Tourism ushers in alternative scenarios of engagement at different level. Five Star hotels can co exist with stay homes. Travel industry can go with local tourist guides.

The weaver will have an audience and also a market for her products. Our terraced cultivation and jhum cultivation can be repackaged as tourism products. Communication will become more important. There will be lots of demand for interpreters. The challenge is to maximise the net benefit accruing to the society. That needs a state of preparedness based on a conviction and confidence that we can.

* Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
The writer is at Economics Department, Manipur University (MU)
This article was posted on June 29, 2014.

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